Analysis from Israel

Though Israel’s diplomatic situation has improved remarkably, there’s been one glaring and nontrivial exception: Europe. Hence, it’s encouraging to discover that even in Europe, patient, persistent diplomacy can bear fruit if it focuses on a few clear, consistent messages. Consider, for instance, the following recent events:

Two weeks ago, by an overwhelming vote of 112-2, the lower house of the Czech parliament passed a resolution which urged the Czech government to show “respect” for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and oppose any action by the European Union or other international organizations that “distorts historical facts” or is “imbued with the spirit of hatred of Israel.” The resolution slammed UNESCO, in particular, for its “biased and antagonistic approach” toward Israel, epitomized by its serial denial of Jewish ties to Jerusalem, and even demanded that the government withhold its UNESCO dues.

This doesn’t mean the Czech embassy will be moving to Jerusalem anytime soon; Congress has been trying to move the U.S. embassy there since 1995 without success. Nor will other European countries swiftly follow suit; the Czech Republic has long been Israel’s closest friend in Europe. Nevertheless, somebody had to be first, and this resolution is a stunning and unprecedented break with Europe’s longstanding rejection of Jewish rights to Jerusalem.

That same week, the Berlin chapter of Germany’s main center-left party, the Social Democrats, adopted a resolution condemning “the anti-Semitic BDS campaign” and “widespread anti-Zionist anti-Semitism.” This is noteworthy because young leftists are usually the West’s most anti-Israel demographic, yet the resolution was sponsored by the party’s youth wing (Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats adopted a similar resolution last year).

The timing was also notable. It occurred one month after the Social Democrats’ top politician, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, visited Israel and ostentatiously chose to meet with Breaking the Silence, a group that fuels the BDS movement by promoting the canard that Israel perpetrates war crimes at anti-Israel events worldwide, rather than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In other words, the Berlin chapter and its youth wing implicitly rejected their leader’s anti-Israel positions.

The following week, Norway condemned the Palestinian Authority for naming a women’s center after a female terrorist who murdered 38 Israeli civilians. It also demanded a refund of the money Norway donated for the center and vowed not to sign any new agreements with the organizations behind the project until “satisfactory procedures are in place to ensure that nothing of this nature happens again,” in the words of Foreign Minister Borge Brende. This is noteworthy because Norway is one of the most anti-Israel countries in Europe, and has long lavished funding on the PA while turning a blind eye to its glorification of terrorism. Thus, for Oslo to suddenly say it’s no longer prepared to let its money be used for this purpose is revolutionary.

A few days later, Denmark halted $8 million in funding for 24 nongovernmental organizations while it investigates whether the funds are going to support BDS, anti-Israel incitement or glorification of terror. “It is possible that in wake of the examination we will be forced to stop our support of a number of Palestinian organizations,” its Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Until this examination is complete we won’t sign any new grants for Palestinian organizations.” Like Norway, Denmark is a major Palestinian funder that has previously turned a blind eye to how its money is used.

All this was complemented by another notable development in the one non-European Western country that has consistently shared Europe’s attitudes and policies toward Israel: New Zealand. Its foreign minister wrote to Netanyahu last month seeking to end a rupture that began in December when it co-sponsored a Security Council resolution against the settlements and Israel responded by bringing its ambassador home and keeping him there. Once, it was Israel that begged other countries to establish relations. Now, it’s a beggar no longer; other countries–even Western ones–want good relations no less than Israel does.

Several factors contributed to these victories. One is the way Israeli NGOs are serving as force multipliers for Israeli diplomacy. The Norwegian and Danish funding decisions, for instance, would be inconceivable had two stellar organizations, Palestinian Media Watch and NGO Monitor, not been patiently been making the case for such moves in European capitals for years. Yet this also wouldn’t have happened had official Israel not begun pushing the issue in talks with European governments, thereby depriving them of a perfect excuse for inaction. Europe will never be more pro-Israel than Israel’s own government.

Second, Israel has finally developed the confidence to play hardball, as it did by downgrading ties with New Zealand and Senegal, another co-sponsor of Resolution 2334, last December. Ties with Senegal were restored this week after the Muslim-majority country promised to support Israel’s bid for observer status at the African Union, which it had previously opposed. The New Zealand rupture is expected to end soon.

This confidence undoubtedly stems in part from Israel’s growing diplomatic strength outside the West, as highlighted most recently by Netanyahu’s address on Sunday to the summit of the Economic Community of Western African States. He was the first Israeli leader to address ECOWAS, which even moved the summit from Saturday to Sunday to accommodate him. The group invited him even though two of its 15 members have no diplomatic relations with Israel, and it pointedly preferred him to another nonmember guest: Morocco’s king. The West African monarch announced he would skip the summit rather than attend alongside Netanyahu, but that gambit signally failed to result, as it once would have, in Israel being disinvited.

Above all, however, these successes stem from focusing consistently on simple, clear, easily digestible messages: Jews’ longstanding ties to Jerusalem, the anti-Semitic nature of BDS, Palestinian incitement, and the way Europe enables it. For too long, Israeli diplomacy has tried to convey complex, nuanced messages while the Palestinians endlessly repeated simple sound bites (“end the occupation”). But when shades of gray compete against black and white in the arena of public opinion, the latter usually wins.

Israel’s recent victories came from hammering home black-and-white messages of its own. And if it continues to do so, it can make further diplomatic gains, even in hostile Europe.

Originally published in Commentary on June 7, 2017

3 Responses to Israel’s Diplomacy Gets Serious and Gets Results

  • andy larner says:

    another excellent article hopefully the worm has finally turned for Israel may G-d bless Israel and protect the Jewish people from harm.

  • Mordavig Cervetus says:

    A critical unacknowledged factor that has nothing to do with Israel diplomacy … Donald Trump and his team let everybody know that the game has changed. Obama´s time is over. Israel bashing is not acceptable anymore. One can certainly still do it, but at its own risk.

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Physicians, Heal Thyselves

It’s no secret that many liberal Jews today view tikkun olam, the Hebrew phrase for “repairing the world,” as the essence of Judaism. In To Heal the World?, Jonathan Neumann begs to differ, emphatically. He views liberal Judaism’s love affair with tikkun olam as the story of “How the Jewish Left Corrupts Judaism and Endangers Israel.” In fact, he believes tikkun olam endangers Judaism itself. Anyone who considers such notions wildly over the top should make sure to read Neumann’s book—because one needn’t agree with everything he says to realize that his major concerns are disturbingly well-founded.

Neumann begins by explaining what he considers the modern liberal Jewish understanding of tikkun olam. It is taken, he says, not just as a general obligation to make the world a better place, but as a specific obligation to promote specific “universal” values and even specific policies—usually, the values and policies of progressive Democrats.

He then raises three major objections to this view. The first is that the only way to interpret Judaism as a universalist religion with values indistinguishable from those of secular progressives is by ignoring the vast majority of key Jewish texts, including the Bible and the Talmud, and millennia of Jewish tradition. After all, most of these texts deal with the history, laws, and culture of one specific nation—the Jews. The Bible’s history isn’t world history, nor are its laws (with a few exceptions) meant to govern any nation but the Jews. Judaism undeniably has universalist elements. But to ignore its particularist aspects is to ignore much of what makes it Judaism, which therefore corrupts our understanding of Judaism.

The second problem is that if Judaism has no purpose other than promoting the same values and policies touted by non-Jewish progressives, there’s no reason for Judaism to exist at all. Consequently, the tikkun olam version of Judaism really does threaten Judaism’s continued existence, and it’s no accident that the liberal Jewish movements that have embraced it are rapidly dwindling due to intermarriage and assimilation. After all, why should young American Jews remain Jewish when they can do everything they think Judaism requires of them even without being Jewish?

This also explains why, in Neumann’s view, tikkun olam Judaism endangers Israel. If there’s no reason for Judaism to exist, there’s certainly no reason for a Jewish state. Indeed, Israel is anathema to the tikkun olam worldview because it’s the embodiment of Jewish particularism—the view that Jews are a distinct nation and have their own history, culture, and laws rather than being merely promulgators of universal values. Thus it’s easy to understand why tikkun olam Jews increasingly abhor the Jewish state.

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